Anyone who has wet a line knows there’s more to fly-fishing than landing a trout.
Fly-fishing is about wading into a river and enjoying the tranquility of nature with friends and family.
But there’s also something to be said about an angler’s first strike, the tug of a fly line and the ensuing battle with a trophy brown, a pristine rainbow or one of Colorado’s native cutthroats.
But it’s not until a novice nets their first fish that they become truly hooked on the sport, taking a moment for the first time to admire one of nature’s most beautiful creations and snap a proud photo before gently releasing their catch back into the water.
Beginning Friday, 70 of the best anglers representing six countries will participate in the America Cup, competing for the prestige of being named one of the world’s top fly-fishermen at five venues in Summit and Eagle counties.
Founded five years ago by John Knight, the America Cup was recently restructured as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization to better promote competitive and amateur fly-fishing in the states and abroad.
In staying true to its philanthropic mission, Knight kicked off the five-day event by hosting 20 disabled active duty and veteran soldiers from Fort Carson in Colorado Springs at Nova Guides’ Camp Hale Lodge located in the White River National Forest about 15 miles south of Vail.
The soldier’s clinic, now in its second year, was organized in conjunction with Project Healing Waters and each soldier was paired with a tournament competitor to learn river and still water fly-fishing techniques on the Eagle River and at Nova Guides’ private ponds.
“We had soldiers with both physical and cognitive disabilities, like post traumatic stress disorder, from being in battle who are currently in rehab programs,” Knight said. “The idea is to not only teach them progressive fly-fishing techniques to get them on fish, but to promote fly-fishing in a peaceful environment where the soldiers can make new friends and hopefully instill a love for the sport they can share with their families.”
Knight and tournament competitors hosted Wednesday both seasoned and first-time anglers, teaching them everything from fly and gear selection to reading the water and techniques for fishing with dry and wet flies.
Sally Fant, Project Healing Waters committee member and trip planner, said the program has dramatically beneficial effects on soldiers returning from military service, one going so far as to say Colorado’s rivers are his second church.
“Being on the water is very rehabilitative for anybody, but focusing on fishing in a serene environment helps a lot of soldiers gets their minds off whatever their struggling with,” Fant said.
In addition to learning fly-fishing techniques, Fant said Project Healing Waters’ volunteers also teach soldiers how to tie their own flies and build their own rods.
“It provides a sense of accomplishment and is very rewarding for soldiers to be able to say, ‘I made this and was able to outsmart a fish,’” Fant said. “That’s also a big part of it, but there’s nothing more beneficial for a soldier than to work on something outside the confines of the battlefield while developing relationships with like-minded people outside of a military environment.”
Many of the professional anglers who participated in Wednesday’s soldier’s clinic will take to the water beginning at 9 a.m. Friday for the three-day, five-venue tournament.
Among the competitors are the U.S. Men’s Team, which is currently ranked fifth in the world; The U.S. Youth Team, which recently took gold at a fly-fishing competition in Ireland; the reigning No. 1 world-ranked team from the Czech Republic, as well as top teams from France, Italy, Portugal and Sweden.
“It’s always rewarding to give back to soldiers, but we’re also really excited about this year’s tournament,” Knight said. “The level of competition has never been higher.”
The anglers, broken up into 14 teams of five, will spend the next three days rotating among the upper and lower branches of the Blue River, Sylvan Lake State Park, Black Lake on Vail Pass and Lake Dillon.
This is the first time Lake Dillon is featured as a competition venue. Knight recently told the Dillon Town Council the America Cup added Lake Dillon in preparation for the 2015 Youth World Fly Fishing Championships and the 2016 World Fly Fishing Championships, which will be hosted out of Vail.
“I feel Lake Dillon helps showcase the diversity of the fishing in our watershed,” Knight said. “I have a high alpine lake at Sylvan, which is very different from Lake Dillon, just like the Blue River is different from the Colorado River. Showcasing different water is the name of the game when you’re looking to host that type of a high-level competition.”
During the America Cup, each angler will receive 100 yards of water to work with and fish for three-hour blocks at a time. Morning sessions run from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Afternoon sessions take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Because the teams will be rotating among the five venues, local fly fishing enthusiasts won’t need to travel far in order to catch the action, Knight said.
The event caps Sunday with open fishing from 1 to 6 p.m. at Camp Hale, followed by an awards party from 6 to 8 p.m. with Nova Guides. The public is welcome to attend both events, Knight said, and a portion of the tournament’s proceeds will benefit Project Healing Waters.
For more information about the America Cup and for travel directions to the five venues, visit www.theamericacup.com.